Pennsylvania’s new top law enforcer will appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the governor's handling of the Penn State sex scandal when he held her office.
Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a Democrat elected Nov. 6, confirmed to The New York Times that she will launch an independent probe of Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican up for re-election next year. The probe will specifically question why it took nearly three years to bring child molestation charges against longtime assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, why Corbett did not put more staff members on the case, and why Corbett accepted campaign donations from a charity founded by Sandusky.
Kane, 46, told the newspaper that Corbett delayed the investigation while he campaigned for higher office.
Corbett, 63, declined to respond to Kane's accusations but has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
“The proof is the conviction of Jerry Sandusky on 45 of 48 counts, and he will spend the rest of his life in jail because of the work of the men and women in the attorney general’s office and the State Police,” said Kevin Harley, the governor's spokesman.
Half of all voters, though, are critical of Corbett's handling of the case and 52 percent don't think he deserves to be re-elected because of his poor first-term performance, according to a Quinnipiac University Polling Institute survey released Tuesday.
Even a majority of Republicans — 49 percent — do not support Corbett and nearly a third, 29 percent, won't give him another four years, the poll shows.
"It's halftime in Gov. Tom Corbett's first term and if he were running a football team instead of a state, he'd fire his offensive coordinator," Quinnipiac's Tim Malloy said in a statement.
Corbett's declining popularity makes him vulnerable to a challenge from within his party. Already, Bruce Castor, a Montgomery County commissioner and former district attorney, has announced that he is considering a bid for governor in 2014, telling The Citizens' Voice in Wilkes-Barre that the survey results cast doubt on Corbett's ability to get re-elected.
Kane is hugely popular, beating GOP challenger David Freed by nearly 15 points to become the first woman and the first Democratic elected attorney general in Pennsylvania.
Still, Kane maintains she has no interest in running against Corbett, although another prominent Democrat is cautioning her not to make the Corbett investigation personal.
“Clearly, this is a very delicate issue on the political side,” Jay Costa, minority leader in the State Senate, told the Times. “If she creates an atmosphere that this is a witch hunt or whatever and she has already reached a conclusion, that’s not good.”
Kane told the Times that she would accept the findings of the special prosecutor.
“I am not afraid at the very end, after every stone has been turned, to tell everyone, ‘Nothing went wrong here,'” she said.
Corbett himself has come across as politically motivated in the wake of the scandal. In early January, he filed a lawsuit to rescind the sanctions that the National Collegiate Athletic Association imposed on Penn State because of Sandusky's crimes. Only six months earlier, Corbett had called on the state to accept the punishment, which included the forfeit of 112 victories.
Voters, along with political analysts and many of the state's editorial writers, saw the lawsuit as Corbett's way to win the support of Penn State's vast number of alumni.
Kane and Corbett have already had words about the case.
Kane, a former county prosecutor who specialized in child sex abuse cases, insists it would have never taken her the 33 months that it took Corbett to build a case against Sandusky.
"It’s never taken me that long,” Kane said. “I was on the campaign trail almost two years; I didn’t go to a single place without somebody asking me why it took so long.”
Corbett took the accusations to a grand jury because investigators told him the evidence — from a single accuser — was too weak to get a conviction.
“The criticism that Ms. Kane has is that she would never have put this in a grand jury,” Mr. Corbett told The Philadelphia Inquirer last week. “My observation is, I don’t think she’s ever been involved in a grand jury or understands how it operates.”
Kane volleyed back that she brought at least six cases to grand juries in her 12 years as a county prosecutor.
Randy Feathers, the supervising investigator, has come to Corbett's defense, confirming there were as many as four agents on the Sandusky case and that the probe took so long because “we felt like we had no shot” getting a conviction with only a single witness.
The delay was only because the agents had to track down other victims.
“Our job was to find those kids,” Feathers, now retired, told The Times.
“Tom Corbett had nothing to do with slowing anything down.”
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